compiled by Ardis Bazyn, ACB Membership Chair
The theme for the 2023 membership seminar was “The Benefits of Partnerships for Membership Growth.” By contacting people in other organizations, agencies, and companies, more blind and visually impaired people are exposed to ACB and its affiliates. Once they learn about ACB and/or an affiliate, they connect with other blind and visually impaired people and may join.
The first panel speakers on the topic “How to Find and Establish Partnerships” were Allan Peterson from the North Dakota Association of the Blind; Danette Dixon from Washington Diabetics in Action and Guide Dog Users of Washington, and Ardis Bazyn from California Council of the Blind and Randolph-Sheppard Vendors of America. Some tips mentioned were:
- Contact your closest VIS coordinator at VA hospitals and medical centers to discuss how your organization can assist or support veterans who have recently lost their vision.
- Contact the nearest Independent Living Centers in your state and offer assistance and support for programs for visually impaired people in the area.
- Contact Lions Clubs in your community and visit them. If possible, have a member join their club.
You can also offer to have a member speak to a local chapter about your projects.
- Contact guide dog schools or puppy raisers to assist with an event.
- Contact appropriate partners for specific projects.
- Establish a program which would suit a possible partner.
- Search for like-minded organizations and help them with their mission.
- When approaching an organization, company, or agency, outline the benefits for both parties in any partnership.
- Sponsors, exhibitors, and programs being developed (camps, conventions, etc.) need to benefit both parties.
- Invite speakers from organizations and agencies where new programs or innovative ideas are being developed.
- When inviting sponsors or exhibitors to your conferences or events, consider which companies might have products and services your members might enjoy.
- Think outside the box when inviting companies and organizations, since most attendees have other interests beside blindness products and services.
- Reach out to specific agencies where clients likely will need services at some point like accessible software, accessible voting, accessible pharmacies, etc.
- Ask your members to suggest particular companies or organizations they have contacted in the past for products and services. If access issues are found, you can work together on them.
- Recognize organizations, agencies, and companies who have worked with you on a project having a good outcome.
The speakers on the second panel topic, “Current Chapter and Affiliate Partnerships,” were Theresa D. Thomas, executive director, Bluegrass Council of the Blind, Inc.; Allan Peterson, North Dakota Association of the Blind; and Casey Dutmer, president, Michigan Council of the Blind and Visually Impaired. Their efforts have included the following:
- The Michigan Council of the Blind and Visually Impaired (MCBVI) chapters have partnered with several organizations and have had good results. The chapter in the Grand Rapids area, Visually Impaired Persons for Progress (VIPP) has worked with Disability Advocates of Kent County on issues such as accessible voting, public transportation, more sidewalks in populated areas and other issues related to blindness as well as the disability community.
- This chapter has also worked with the Rapid on public transportation with good results. The chapter has done a lot of work with the city and county clerks with moderate success.
- The Blue Water League of the Blind, which serves St. Clair County, has also worked with their local transit provider and has a working relationship with the local Chamber of Commerce and the Center for Independent Living with good results.
- MCBVI has partnered with the Bureau of Services for Blind Persons (BSBP) to build better relationships between the consumers and state agency.
- They also played a large role in how the Auto-Marc voting machine was designed by giving input to state officials.
- Bluegrass Council of the Blind partners with several organizations to present a biennial event that educates professionals who work with people with low to no vision, offering continuing education credits for people in the areas of social work, rehabilitation counseling and nursing. For this one-day event, we partner with the Lexington Senior Center, Visually Impaired Preschool Services (VIPS), the VA visually impaired services team, Radio Eye, and independent transportation network of the Bluegrass. Presentations are all related to topics of concern to people with vision impairment. They invite vendors to have information booths. They have found this type of event is fairly easy to get sponsors and vendors to pay a fee for the booth. Sponsorships are usually around $500 or $1,000; booth space is usually $25 or $50 per booth, with nonprofits getting a free booth space.
- BGCB has worked with the University of Kentucky, and various departments. The communications department has professors that require students to do volunteer work in groups, and BGCB is on their list of nonprofits for the students to choose from. BGCB gets a group of eight or 10 students each semester to help them with communication projects like conducting phone surveys, social media assistance, etc. One year BGCB had a student who was fluent in Spanish; she translated brochures into Spanish for them.
- BGCB also has a formal partnership with the college of pharmacy where they provide a group of students to work with BGCB for two years and provide at least two hours of volunteer time a month per student. They also did a project to assist BGCB with a health fair, directing it specifically to people with vision difficulties. BGCB held it at the senior center and invited various organizations to have free booths, such as diabetes screenings, kidney screenings, and the pharmacy students did diabetic foot exams and blood pressure screenings. They had a total of 18 vendor booths and about 75 visitors.
- The University is a great resource for volunteers and partner agencies. Volunteers often return after the required volunteer time as members, donors and ongoing volunteers.
- The University of Kentucky has a program called community service learning, and they can connect BGCB with all the different departments that require volunteer hours and volunteer projects of the students.
- BGCB partners with the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation/Division of Blind Services for several types of events, including the eye-opening symposium, and BGCB often provides speakers or vendor booths at the McDowell Center, which is a residential facility for people to learned blind skills which is operated by the Division of Blind Services Coalition.
- BGCB has been invited to present to the statewide emergency management services and participate in role-play exercises, preparing for disasters. BGCB has offered presentations on how to assist a person with a vision impairment, and currently serves on an advisory Council for the statewide emergency management services.
- BGCB has a seat on the statewide council for vocational rehabilitation, which connects BGCB to many other agencies across the state who serve people with disabilities.
- BGCB also participates each year in the statewide organization for optometrists. It’s the Kentucky Optometric Association, and each spring they have a conference where BGCB provides an information booth. There is no charge for nonprofits to have a booth, and we can reach lots of optometrists and people who work in optometrists’ and ophthalmologists’ offices.
- Last year, BGCB had a partnership with the University of Kentucky’s teachers of the visually impaired program, which has a master’s program in orientation and mobility. BGCB partnered with them to host several orientation and mobility workshops. They provided certified orientation and mobility specialists and students studying in their program to provide training to people who wanted to attend the workshop. BGCB not only provided orientation and mobility services, but also sighted guide techniques to friends and family members who were interested in assisting their loved ones.
- The TVI program for orientation and mobility also provided certified orientation and mobility specialists and students to assist BGCB with giving members and clients extra assistance in navigating and learning their way around BGCB’s new offices.
- The North Dakota Council of the Blind and Visually Impaired has worked with Lions Clubs to plan their annual camp for visually impaired persons.
These are all great ways to get involved in the community which can increase your visibility and increase your membership. Visit your local Chamber of Commerce and let them know about your organization and its mission. There are so many different groups and organizations you can involve in your projects. Be open to new possibilities and reach out to your community.